Contra Zoning? Not Really.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Over at Future of Capitalism is an interesting blog post regarding zoning. The New York Times, it notes, has just come out in favor of relaxed zoning laws:

The most helpful policy for people in small towns could be to relax zoning rules in dense cities like New York and San Francisco, so that more affordable housing could be built to receive newcomers from rural Wisconsin or Kentucky, and they wouldn't need the income of an investment banker or a computer scientist to afford to live there. [bold added]
The ensuing commentary seems to take this at face value and makes the following interesting point, with which I substantially agree:
Areas where property rights are not fully respected by the government are shown by shading. (Image via Wikipedia.)
Telling someone who already spent a lot of money on a house in New York, San Francisco, or a Boston suburb that they should accept those risks to help out "newcomers from rural Wisconsin or Kentucky" is not necessarily a big political winner. There may be other ways to frame this in ways that are more politically palatable, but it seems to me that's the challenge on this issue at the moment. One possible pitch would be something like, "We can build some taller buildings in ways that won't ruin your neighborhood but will actually make it better by providing the density to support better restaurants, cafes, and stores and the tax base to support better public transportation and public schools. And if you look at other dense neighborhoods, they actually have pretty high property values, because people like the walkable amenities." That's more an appeal to self-interest than to altruism. [bold added]
I completely agree with Future of Capitalism that appealing to self-interest could more successfully pave the way to "relax zoning rules" than altruism. This could help those who would want to try relocating to a city to improve their fortunes. However, the appeal to self-interest needs to start sooner and the implications taken much farther than the Times would ever go, or care to admit.

The Times does not speak of, say, relaxing zoning on the way towards its abolition. It also does not even mention the idea of property rights, which zoning violates and it is the government's (actual) job to protect. Consider also the fact that the reason this call for allegedly relaxed zoning is to do something the government ought not be doing. The reasons for the pitch Future of Capitalism sees as necessary hint at how this will play out: Since zoning subsumes many of the purposes other legal mechanisms, such as restrictive covenants, ought to serve, people understandably make expensive real estate decisions based on the assumption that zoning will still be around to "protect" their investments. This is why it becomes necessary to worry that people who buy houses with the expectation that they won't have to live in the shadow of a high-rise might not like the idea of "relaxed zoning." So, while it may be true that city dwellers can benefit from higher density, the real problem is that zoning laws can be changed at the drop of a hat in ways that restrictive covenants can not. Fighting for "relaxed zoning" rather than a program to abolish zoning altogether is thus meaningless. The Times poses as capitalist only so it can keep zoning intact, and turn around and use it as a tool to allegedly help poor hillbillies while actually running roughshod over the city slickers.

If the Times deserves any credit, it might be for admitting that zoning harms the poor. But even that much credit is debatable: Zoning, by violating property rights, harms everyone. (Here is one another example.) As such, it should be opposed root and branch, and we should be wary of apparent changes of heart, such as that by the Times. Mere opposition to a bad policy (or part of one, or how one is used) is nowhere near as important as the reasons for that opposition. Zoning has always been excused by appeals to the fiction of the "public interest," and this "relaxation" is only in the sense convenient to those who claim to speak for "the public."

I agree that we should appeal to the self-interest of the electorate on the subject of zoning -- because repealing it will better protect property rights: Landowners who want low density can guarantee low density through contracts, and developers who wish to build high rises will be able to do so without political opposition or the threat of same.

If the Times really wanted to help the poor, it would go the extra mile to argue for a careful and systematic phasing-out of all zoning laws. In doing so, it would pave the way for increased prosperity for all, by way of enabling all of us to put our own property to the use we judge best.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 14, 2018

Four Things

Five, counting the picture.

What's this? My "Little Man dozes off on the couch" checklist, of course. See P.S.
1. Answering a question from my daughter about whether chickens "poop out" eggs, I mispronounced the term cloaca, sounding more Roman than American in the process. (I  blame years of Latin for this.) My wife quickly corrected me, advising Pumpkin to check with her for pronunciation of new words, but with me for spelling.

As if our division of labor isn't weird enough already...

2. Pumpkin took her unicorn headband with her on an outing and, predictably, grew tired of it. Stuck carrying it, I put it on at one point and got her attention. "A manicorn does not look good," was her immediate verdict.

3. Pumpkin has often amazed me with her ability to spot things that blend into backgrounds. I recently inadvertently put that use.

I had lost my black-framed eyeglasses earlier in the day, and was afraid that they might get damaged, so I warned the kids: "You don't have to go looking for them, but watch out for my glasses when we get home. I lost them, and I'm worried that someone might sit on them or step on them."

Within minutes of getting home, my daughter piped up, "Daddy, I found your glasses!"

Where were they? On a black step stool in the downstairs bathroom.

4. My kids are at their most talkative on the ride home from school. During our last couple of days in Baltimore, while we were using a hotel, my son relayed to me a most interesting dream he'd had the night before. He told me about how monsters were attacking his sister, and he fought them off by kicking them.

I got a good laugh out of Pumpkin when I mentioned a strange coincidence: He had woken me up that very night, by repeatedly kicking me in the back.

-- CAV

P.S. What's up with the picture, Van Horn?

I'm glad you asked. My son, who can sleep like a log, sometimes dozes off on the couch before bedtime. Rather than wake him, I just picked him up one evening and deposited him in his bed. Waking at two in the morning, he became quite upset that he was not in his pajamas. The next day, he created the pictured bedtime checklist for me, so I wouldn't forget that important step in the future.

Two things about the image. (1) Kids his age flip things around from left to right, so I flipped it around for better "flow" (2) It's on moving paper, hence all the crinkles.

Lucas on Kyler Murray

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Writing at Inc., Suzanne Lucas brings up something too many in the public square frequently ignore or fail to account for, when the subject of ill-considered past actions and utterances comes up:

We knew Finster was a bad apple the moment he swiped his older bother's hat. (Image via Pixabay.)
Last week I was on the tram when a group of teenage boys came and sat near me. Their language was atrocious and they kept calling each other "gay." So, knowing that their behavior at 13 was indicative of how they would be for their entire lives, I took their pictures, followed them home, and got their full names and addresses.

This way, when they try to get jobs or win awards or something, I can discredit them and point out that when they were young teens they were dumb and more interested in being shocking than anything else.

Where's my community leadership badge? [links omitted]
That something is called context. Lucas notes that many recent trials-by-media have used, as damning evidence, things people have said many years ago, and asks:
Is there ever a point where we can say, "Okay, you've changed?" or "Okay, you've grown up?"

Or is life simply a one-shot-and-you're-out game?
All I can add to this line of thought is the following observation: It is particularly unjust to play this game regarding actions taken by people who were young at the time, before they have learned good judgement, and when they stand the best chance to change for the better.

Lucas offers her own advice regarding such situations in the form of what really happened on that tram ride. Here is another: When you find someone pummeling another person over something -- non-criminal, and that doesn't cross some truly horrible line -- from their distant past, ask yourself what they might hope to gain by doing so. This goes double for those who dig up dirt on kids.

-- CAV

Google Sees No Evil in Sharia App

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Google has received lots of deserved bad press for helping oppressive regimes like China's censor search results, but its questionable decisions don't end at licking the boots of tyrants. The company also puts its motto to the lie by helping little dictators in Indonesia report blasphemy to the government by means of an app called "Smart Pakem," which is available in its app store. The below quote, from Indonesia's National Secular Society, deserves wide circulation:

Screen shot.
Indonesia's blasphemy law is a morally unjustifiable tool of repression which should be repealed as soon as possible. While this law exists anyone who believes in free expression should make it as difficult as possible for the Indonesian government to enforce the law. Google has greatly benefited from the freedom to share information globally. We ask it and other multinational companies to consider whether they can in good conscience profit from the repression caused by governments' crackdowns on free speech.
According to Google Translate, pakem means "grip," which causes me to think of a pair of hands tightening around a neck. What a great metaphor for the horrible deed of abetting an assault on freedom of speech.

-- CAV

P.S. Irony alert: I also plugged smart pakem into Google Translate and got "smart standard" as a translation.

Legalized Election Theft in Cali

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dick Morris explains how seven Republicans who -- as of election day -- had won congressional seats in California, "lost" them weeks later:

If you have a ballot lying around, he'll fix things for you. (Image via Wikipedia.)
California sends ballots to every voter before Election Day, whether they request it or not. All the voter needs to do is to fill in his choices and mail the form back.

But if the mail ballot is not received by Election Day, it can still be counted if a sealed, completed ballot is dropped off with elections officials by hand -- and the voter does not have to drop off their ballot in person.

In 2016, California Gov. Jerry Brown opened the door to fraud by signing a law allowing anyone to drop off a ballot for another person. This gave rise to a new practice known as "ballot harvesting," in which Democratic Party canvassers visited people who had not voted on Election Day and collected their mail-in ballots and turned them in on their behalf.

This year, a record 250,000 people voted by having someone else turn in their vote-by-mail ballots. [bold added]
I am stunned, even in this day and age, that this law is even on the books. (Neighboring Arizona actually has a law making it a felony for anyone but a postal worker, family member, or caregiver to turn in a ballot on behalf of someone else.)

It is clearly hopeless to change this law by legislative means in California, but it seems like something that shouldn't be necessary since this clearly violates the rights of voters. That said, a quick search shows no pending legal action against this law, although a site called Judicial Watch claims to be "investigating" the problem. (Posted there is a video, allegedly of a harvester in action. Quote from a partial transcript: "It's Lulu, I'm here to pick up your ballot. Yeah, we're offering this new service but only like, to people who are supporting the Democratic party.")

I hope this law and others like it are challenged in court and declared unconstitutional.

-- CAV

The Latest Assault on Freedom to Contract

Monday, December 10, 2018

"Progressive" politicians in New Jersey are citing "discrimination" as their excuse to violate the rights of businesses such as Amazon that wish to set up cashless stores. The state, along with several municipalities, is considering forcing essentially all brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash:

It is immoral to force anyone to keep piles of cash lying around, and impractical, if consumer interests really are a concern. (Image via Picabay.)
As technology gives consumers more ways to pay, including with their smartphones, some businesses have gone cashless to improve efficiency and reduce the risk of robbery, among other reasons.

But consumer advocates say cashless businesses effectively discriminate against poor customers who don't have access to credit or bank accounts, and seniors who aren't comfortable paying with plastic or digital devices. [bold added]
As with other improper, rights-violating measures (e.g., the minimum wage and "ban the box" laws) foisted on the public in the name of addressing "discrimination," this will also fail to achieve its alleged goal. Off the top of my head: Have these "consumer advocates" not heard of "food deserts" -- poor areas in cities that lack grocery stores? Cashless stores alone would not solve the problem, but it's conceivable that the ability to operate without mounds of cash on hand might make it safer enough for at least a few businesses to enter or start in such potential markets. And as for "the unbanked" not being able to pay, I am sure some enterprising soul could come up with a pre-paid way for many of them to use such stores, if that hasn't been implemented already. But that's not even the half of how ludicrous such proposals are. For that, we can start to see this from a report in the British Guardian:
I sat down to eat a curry I had bought (with old-fashioned cash) from another Hatch unit. Then, an Öl barman brought over a conciliatory glass of beer, on the house. I told him the bar's cash-free policy is elitist; who wants to be forced to put a pint on a credit card? He talked about time saved and how not having cash on the premises was safer for the staff. We politely agreed to disagree.

Relating this later, to Öl's co-owner David McCall, I find him irrepressibly upbeat, as if everything is going to plan: "We have probably given away 10 beers to people who didn't have cards -- and a few when Visa went down. But we would rather give you a free beer than give the bank five grand, and we want our staff to feel secure. On our second week, we were broken into [overnight] with sledgehammers. All they could take was one iPad."

McCall's Manchester coffee shop Takk takes cash. But opening Öl and a second Takk at the student-oriented Hatch was a chance to dispense with the £3,000- to £5,000-a-year in bank charges that the original Takk, like every business, incurs for depositing cash. "We pay above Living Wage [Foundation rates], but we want to pay our 25 staff more," says McCall. The savings made by going card-only will help with that. plastic or digital devices. [bold added]
First, nobody is forcing anyone buy anything. Second, guess who loses when their employer's costs increase? Or is it "elitist" to make entry-level employees accustomed to higher pay levels? Another report from the same paper underscores how absurd this idea is:
The smartest businesspeople I know don't need a state law telling them it makes the most business sense to accept all forms of payment.

If it's smart, why pass a law? And if we "need" a law (We don't, but still...), perhaps there's something we're missing. These points both come up even before we ask the following question: "By what right does the government force someone to accept any given form of payment?" One would imagine at least one of the sympathetic lefty reporters I'd read might appreciate the point: All dislike having to make payments in a certain way preferred by a businessman. And yet, I don't see any evidence that they do -- although I am sure none of these bloodhounds would appreciate being forced to receive their pay as cash. How hard is it to imagine that the businessman, a fellow human being, might likewise not appreciate being told what form of payment to accept? It is just as wrong for the government to tell a merchant he can't decide how he is to be paid as it would be for the government to tell all of us how to pay (or be paid), and for exactly the same reasons.

-- CAV

Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, December 07, 2018

Notable Commentary

"Read With Me is a free app I created (available for iPhone, Android, or as a web app) to put the classics, and my guidance through them, at anyone's fingertips." [format edits and more below -- ed] -- Lisa VanDamme, in "Read With Me: Crime and Punishment -- A Sneak Preview" at Medium.

"The real problem is not "Islamophobia", but Islamophilia, which is rampant in the West." -- Bosch Fawstin, in "I Became White After I Left Islam?" at FrontPage Magazine.

"Wealth creation is the answer to global warming." -- Raymond Niles, in "The Power of Compounding and the Power of Scaremongering" at Medium.

"[Trump's] dictatorial traits, displayed in his brutish coarseness, is prepping Americans for future dictatorship." -- Raymond Niles, in "Laying Down the Gauntlet of Dictatorship" at Medium.

In Further Detail

Every once in a while, my near-daily blogging routine turns up a real gem, and the app mentioned above appears to be one of them. Already wanting to resume my reading routine after our move, I will now have even more motivation to plow through all those boxes. I plan to install the app and pick a book.

Here is an excerpt from the Android app description linked above:
If I have a unique talent as a teacher of literature, it boils down to this: I am passionate about great books. Hugo wrenches my heart and makes me weep tears of anguish and of wonderment. Rostand stirs me to noble ambition in work and love and life. Tolstoy challenges me to think -- and to feel -- on planes higher than I had ever known. Ibsen, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Jane Austen, Maupassant, Rattigan, Sinclair Lewis -- all have helped me to see, in the words of English professor Mark Edmundson, "that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense -- more alive with meaning than I had thought." I derive profound personal joy from literature, and I have a knack for helping others do the same.

That is why I started Read With Me. I know so many people -- thoughtful, intelligent, motivated people -- who avoid reading the classics. And for understandable reasons: they're busy, they don't know what to read, they've never been taught how to enjoy it, they have unpleasant memories of tedious discussions in high school English ...
This sounds exciting and I am looking forward to this.

-- CAV